When performing a mitzva, what is really important? Must we simply carry out the act of the mitzva, or is it essential to have a level of intent – kavvana – for the mitzva? This is the issue discussed at some length on our daf, where a statement is presented to Shmuel’s father – if someone is forced to eat matza on Pesah he is considered to have fulfilled the commandment. Why should that be true?
Two possibilities are presented as to what forced the person to eat matza:
- Kefa’o shade – literally means “he was forced by a demon”
- Kefa’uhu Parsi’im – Persians (non-Jews) forced him to eat.
Kefa’o shade is an expression that indicates that a person is “forced” to do something by an internal compunction that we would probably call “temporary insanity.” In such a case, the Gemara makes clear that during the time that the individual is under the influence of this compunction, he is not considered in control of his capacities and is therefore not obligated in mitzvot at that moment. Thus any act of mitzva that is done “under the influence” will not be counted.
Rav Ashi therefore explains that we are discussing a case of Kefa’uhu Parsi’im, from which we can conclude that performing a mitzva – even without intent – is counted, since the case of Kefa’uhu Parsi’im is one where the person performing the mitzva had no intention of doing so.
In response to this ruling, the Gemara quotes a series of cases that seem to require kavvana in order for the performance of the mitzva to have significance. A number of the statements indicate specifically that kavvana is essential for the mitzva of shofar. For example, a person whose house is near a synagogue, or who finds himself near a synagogue on Rosh HaShana, can fulfill his obligation of shofar if he hears it – as long as he intends to fulfill the mitzva. Similarly, the Gemara requires that both the person blowing the shofar and the person listening to it must have intention for the mitzva in order for the listener to fulfill the mitzva.
Although the Gemara has explanations for each of these cases (e.g. that the “intention” required was to know that it was actually a shofar and not a donkey braying), there is a very basic difference between eating matza and hearing the shofar. The Talmud Yerushalmi distinguishes between a commandment that involves the need to perform a physical act (like eating) and a mitzva that does not involve any activity at all (like listening to something). In the latter case, it could be argued that, without intent, absolutely nothing has taken place, and we cannot conceivably imagine that a mitzva has taken place.